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Japan in the time of coronavirus: from the Diamond Princess case to the state of emergency

While China has begun its transition to normal life, and many other countries are already reflecting on strategies to resume some day-to-day activities, there are others, such as Japan, where everything is beginning. Thanks to the contribution of Marta Gallina, we can read this story that, in a very concise way, explains the reality that is lived from the city of Tokyo, Japan.

A new threat called COVID-19

Shinjuku before the spread of the novel coronavirus

Japan has been under the spotlight in February because of the famous case of the Diamond Princess, a cruise that has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama after that the novel coronavirus started to spread on board. More than 700 passengers have been found positive for COVID-19 and the quarantine has lasted for almost one month.

At the beginning of March, concerns over a possible spread of the virus in the mainland started to rise. Indoor and outdoor facilities where many people usually gather (e.g. museums and theme parks) were closed down. Hand sanitizers were made available in all restaurants and public locals such as universities. Gatherings and events involving many people were cancelled. Meanwhile, restaurants and public spaces became less crowded than usual. Moreover, as a consequence of the recommendations not to travel and of the beginning of the travel restrictions, the flow of tourists that usually gets around the center of Shinjuku and Shibuya decreased significantly. Trains in peak hours were still packed with people. Most of the drug stores, supermarkets and conbini (i.e. convenience stores) ran out of facemasks and toilet paper.

Is a normal life still possible?

Contrary to the most pessimistic forecast, the cases of COVID-19 in Japan did not increase at an exponential rate. It is still unclear why this was the case. As of mid-March, the Olympic Games were still planned for summer 2020. Some restaurants, to re-attract customers, proposed a 30% discount ‘against’ the coronavirus outbreak. Smart working was only a hypothesis. In the meantime, Japan extended the entry ban to most of the European countries, the United States, Canada, Iran, Hong Kong, Republic of Korea, etc.

Kanda river (Tokyo) during the cherry blossom season

From mid-March onwards, the cherry blossom season (sakura) started in Tokyo. Although festivals and the traditional hanami (i.e. outdoor party or picnic to watch the flowers) were prohibited and the major gardens were closed, thousands of people gathered in the most popular places of the city to experience the blooming. On March 24, the Prime Minister Abe announced a one-year postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games. During the same week, a surge of cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area drove the governor Koike to ask the population to refrain from non-essential outings over the weekend. This caused panic buying all over Tokyo. The following week, Tokyo government suggested to stay home also in the evenings. On March 29, Ken Shimura, a popular Japanese comedian, died from the coronavirus. The news shocked Japan and raised public awareness about the possible risks linked to the spread of the disease.

Towards the state of emergency

Shibuya crossing before the COVID-19 emergency

Due to the frightening increases of the COVD-19 cases in Japan, on April 7 the Japanese Prime Minister Abe has declared a month-long state of emergency for Tokyo and six other prefectures. Grocery stores, pharmacies and all the essential services are guaranteed. Public transportation keeps running. Smart working is encouraged. Unlike other countries, in Japan there is no law to force citizens to stay home or private companies to close and transgressions cannot be punished. Therefore, the Japanese lockdown can be seen as a much softer version of the European model. Yet, governors have the right to close schools and prohibit public gatherings.

As of April 6, there are 3654 confirmed cases in Japan. Experts estimate that the cases of coronavirus will rapidly increase in the next few weeks. Tokyo is going to use a hotel for patients with mild symptoms. Other buildings might be used as temporary medical facilities in order to cope with the spike of infections.




I would like to compile stories from various countries, from people who tell us "How do people live in the times of the Coronavirus?". These are short stories (about 500 words) that tell us how your city or country is doing and what you are doing in the midst of this crisis.

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